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Cheatham v. City of New York

United States District Court, E.D. New York

January 14, 2020

JAMES CHEATHAM, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Roslynn R. Mauskopf, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff James Chealham, who is currently incarcerated at the Fishkill Correctional Facility and is proceeding pro se, filed the instant action on April 13, 2018, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting claims regarding the conditions of his confinement on Rikers Island. In an Order entered on April 2, 2019, this Court granted Cheatham's request to proceed in forma pauper is and dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Cheatham was also granted leave to file an amended complaint - and did so on September 9, 2019. For the reasons below, Plaintiffs amended complaint is dismissed and plaintiff is granted 30 days' leave to file a second amended complaint.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         Cheatham's original complaint was filed on April 13, 2018, against the City of New York ("the City"), the State of New York, the New York City Department of Correction, as well as other defendants. (Compl. (Doc. No. 1).) The complaint alleged, among other things, that the Anna M Kross Center on Rikers Island was a "slave complex" and that the conditions of Cheatham's confinement in that facility violated the constitution. (Compl. at 5-6.) This Court dismissed Cheatham's complaint for failure to state a claim. (Order of 4/2/2019 (Doc. No. 7).) The Court granted Cheatham leave to amend his complaint in order to properly plead a claim regarding the conditions of his confinement. (Id. at 8-9.) Cheatham was instructed that, in order to state a claim against the City of New York, he would have plead facts showing a City policy or custom caused his injury. (Id. at 5-6.) Cheatham was also instructed that, if he named individual defendants, he needed to name "those individuals who have some personal involvement in the action he alleges, ” or at the very least "identify each of them as Correction Officer John or Jane Doe, and to the best of his ability describe each individual." (Order of 4/2/2019 at 8-9.)

         Cheatham filed the instant amended complaint on September 9, 2019, naming only the City of New York as a defendant. (Am. Compl. (Doc. No. 13) at 2.) Cheatham's amended complaint alleges that from February 20, 2018, until September 1, 2018, while detained at the Anna M. Kross Center on Bikers Island, he was held in living conditions that were "inhumane." (Am. Compl. at 4.) Cheatham points to "the abundance of Rodents and Roaches," showers which lacked privacy and were "overcome by mold," the provision of "tattered clothing which didn't fit," medical care "at the bare minimum," food that did not meet "the standards of the Food and Drug Administration," and a generally low "level of safety." (Id. at 4-5.) Cheatham does not identify a specific policy or custom of the City of New York, but quotes language from the Supreme Court's decision in Farmer v. Brennan, discussing prison officials' duty under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution to "ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care, and [to] 'take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates.'" 511 U.S. 825, 832-33 (1994) (quoting Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27 (1984)). Cheatham states that these conditions violated his rights under the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United Stales Constitution. (Am. Compl. at 6.) Cheatham seeks "Monetary, Decla[ra]tory, and Injunctive relief in the sum of $3, 000, 000." (Id.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act requires a district court to screen a civil complaint brought by a prisoner against a governmental entity or its agents and to dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint is "frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1).

         To state a claim, a complaint must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell All. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Matson v. Bd. of Educ., 631 F.3d 57, 63 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). Although all allegations contained in the complaint are assumed to be true, this tenet is "inapplicable to legal conclusions." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. In reviewing a pro se complaint, the court must be mindful that a plaintiffs pleadings should be held "to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104-105 (1976)); see also Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009) (noting that even after Twombly, the court "remain[s] obligated to construe a pro se complaint liberally").

         DISCUSSION

         I. Municipal Liability Under § 1983

         To bring a § 1983 action against a municipality such as the City of New York, the plaintiff must also establish that "the deprivation of the plaintiffs rights under federal law is caused by a governmental custom, policy, or usage of the municipality." Jones v. Town of East Haven, 691 F.3d 72, 80 (2d Cir. 2012). "A policy or custom may be established by any of the following: (1) a formal policy officially endorsed by the municipality; (2) actions or decisions made by municipal officials with decision-making authority; (3) a practice so persistent and widespread that it constitutes a custom through which constructive notice is imposed upon policymakers; or (4) a failure by policymakers to properly train or supervise their subordinates, such that the policymakers exercised 'deliberate indifference' to the rights of the plaintiff." Moran v. Cty. of Suffolk, No. 1 l-CV-3704 (PKC) (GRB), 2015 WL 1321685. at *9 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 24, 2015). The purpose of this requirement is to ensure that "a municipality is held liable only for those deprivations resulting from the decisions of its duly constituted legislative body or of those officials whose acts may fairly be said to be those of the municipality." Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs of Bryan Cty., Okl v. Brown.. 520 U.S. 397, 403-04 (1997). Cheatham has failed to plead this requirement in any of its forms.

         A. Formal Policy

         A plaintiff may establish municipal liability under § 1983 by pleading that a "formal policy officially endorsed by the municipality" caused the constitutional violations he identifies. Moran, 2015 WL 1321685, at *9. Cheatham does not identify a formal policy related to the conditions of his confinement; rather, he cites text from the Supreme Court's decision in Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994). (Am. Compl. at 4.) The standard articulated in Farmer, calling for inmates to "receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care" is not a formal policy of the City of New York. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 832-33. Even if it were, the unsanitary and unhealthy conditions of confinement Cheatham alleges, far from being caused by the policy he quotes, would have occurred in violation of that policy. Cheatham therefore fails to state a § 1983 claim against the City on the basis of a formal policy.

         B. Actions or Decisions by Municipal Officials with ...


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